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Scotland: A social welfare laboratory?

Updated Wednesday 1st May 2013

Article two of seven: Can these policies lead to a ‘fairer’ and more prosperous Scotland?

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When the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, considerable claims were made that it would lead to the development of what the then Scottish Secretary and subsequent First Minister Donald Dewar termed ‘Scottish solutions for Scottish problems’. From its early days it was argued that devolution would not only lead to policy divergence, with Scotland becoming a policy laboratory in which innovative and radical policies could be developed, but that such policies could lead to a ‘fairer’ and more prosperous Scotland.

Such claims have been advanced repeatedly since 1999. However, they have taken on a new resonance following the May 2011 Scottish Parliament elections which saw the Scottish National Party (SNP) emerge as a majority government. This has encouraged a range of debates around the constitutional future for Scotland. For the purposes of this collection of articles, it is these arguments that are of particular interest: that the extension of powers for the Scottish Parliament or full independence for Scotland will allow for the development of a different kind of welfare settlement from that in other parts of the UK. And that in some way this will defend what remains of the post-war British welfare state in Scotland.

‘More devolution’; that is, greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, either of the Devo Plus or devo-max variants, or independence has been presented as the means to a ‘fairer’ and more equal Scottish society. The arguments for ‘more devolution’, which in the first half of 2013 appear to be the favoured position of most voters in Scotland, in part reflect claims that only the Union can protect Scotland from the worst ravages of economic crisis, now or in the future, and that independence would remove such protection rendering a distinctive Scottish welfare state as unsustainable in the longer term. How and why have such competing arguments emerged?

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